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Lexus IS Sedan offers luxury, sportiness

September 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Lexus brand usually stands for luxury but it can also stand for sportiness.

The smallest, sportiest car in the Lexus line is the IS Sedan ($35,950 base price), which has been completely redone for the 2014 model year, to better compete with the other cars in the segment.

Typically, the first car mentioned in the talk of cross-shopping is the BMW 3-Series ($32,550 base price), a hallmark of the sport sedan category. It got a redesign last year and is still going strong, decades after it first came out.

Even Cadillac now offers a worthy competitor with its ATS, which has received high praise from the automotive press.

So with the competition as strong as ever, Lexus couldn't let its entry get left behind. The new styling showcases Lexus' latest design themes, particularly the grill shape known as "spindle".

Inside, cues taken from the limited production Lexus super-car, the LFA, features abound, including the excellent Lexus remote touch interface, which puts an intuitive mouse-type controller with haptic feedback right at the driver's fingertips.

A sport sedan should perform, and this one does. Handling is crisp and sure, poised for duty on curvy roads. Two V6 engines are offered, with the IS 350 getting just over 300 horsepower.

The Lexus IS Sedan does have one flaw in the eye of die-hard car enthusiasts - the shift lever for the automatic transmission. It's the only kind of shift lever Lexus offers, no manual.

True, hardly anyone wants a manual anymore even in sporty cars but to the die-hards, only a true manual with a clutch pedal will do.

As always, you can shift your own gears in the BMW 3-Series, and even Cadillac knew it had to offer a manual in the 2013 ATS ($33,095 base price) for performance cred.

Lexus points out that a paddle-shifted automatic - eight speeds in the case of the IS 350 - is a better transmission on every level. And the brand does have other credentials in the performance world, like the limited production LFA.

Transmission choices or not, the new IS does have the goods to compete in the sport sedan class. But buyers preferring to change gears the old-fashioned way will likely be looking elsewhere.


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